New researches push for ammonia in aviation

Simulation tools offered to NASA funded project researching ammonia in aviation.

American company Ansys will support research led by the University of Central Florida and funded by a $10 million NASA University Leadership Initiative five-year grant to accelerate aviation sustainability. The company revealed its simulation tools will be used in the five-year University of Central Florida study to analyse, test and qualify the use of ammonia as an alternative fuel to power zero-carbon jet engines.

The firm says the goal of the project is to use ammonia as a main hydrogen carrier by including chemical catalysis to leverage ammonia’s hydrogen component while only releasing ‘safe’ emissions.

ammonia in aviation

Could the use of ammonia in aviation be the solution?

Most of the the aviation industry’s efforts to seek out alternatives to fossil fuels have focused on the viability of electric engines, hydrogen power and sustainable aviation fuel.

At COP26 last year, a group led by Reaction Engines launched a design for a lightweight, modular cracking unit which uses engine exhaust heat to partially crack ammonia into a mixture that mimics jet fuel – perfect for aviation applications, amongst others. In 2020, Reaction Engines completed a design concept for ammonia-fueled jet engines, inspired in part by NASA’s ammonia-fueled, X-15 aircraft research program in the 1950s (which set unofficial records for flight speed & altitude). Although there has been a hiatus since the X-15, NASA’s vision for “climate-friendly” aviation was launched in June 2021, with electrification, efficiency improvements and alternative jet fuels like ammonia front-of-mind for the organization.

ammonia in aviation
Sam Willis

How the tech works?

UCF Engineering Professor Jay Kapat and several of his UCF colleagues in engineering and the Florida Space Institute propose using liquid ammonia (NH3) as the fuel for aircraft which, upon combustion, will produce harmless emissions that are green while still providing enough power to keep the aircraft aloft. At high altitudes ammonia is naturally liquid thereby limiting the need for special handling.

Airports and airplanes are expected to store the ammonia in fuel tanks. Ammonia is commonly used as a fertilizer and, when mixed with water, in some household cleaners.

Ammonia will be the hydrogen carrier, which will be catalytically “cracked” to release nitrogen and hydrogen. The hydrogen will be burned in the onboard combustors (inside the engine) to provide the power. Airports and aircraft are expected to store the NH3 in fuel tanks. Excess NH3 will then be used to catalytically reduce any NOx left in the exhaust converting it to nitrogen and water.

When the hydrogen is released, there will be an added bonus, Kapat explained. The conversion process also provides cooling, which can be used to keep engines from overheating and burning out. The impact may be better engine performance and efficiency. Engine exhaust heat is then converted back to electricity for onboard use, thus reducing power draw from the core engines.

The team also is developing new components for jet engines to be used in conjunction with the new fuel. The team is using the 737-8 class for a baseline as it represents nearly a quarter of all commercial aircraft, according to Boeing.

Our work with ammonia

Universal Kraft works with ammonia as a green option to fossil fuels, providing the same functionality on a large scale. These green power alternatives are fundamental for a sustainable and complete clean energy transition. Universal Kraft has been working on alternative and innovative energy carriers and storage solutions for a number of years. To optimize the decarbonization potential of renewables for the generation of green hydrogen and ammonia we created the companies UH2 and BH2.

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